Allison Joseph—Featured Poet


Good Vibrations

I hurt my hand while writing Mr. Right
I broke my shoe while chasing Mr. Wrong
With Mr. Someone Else I had a fight
Who knew that he’d be turned off by a thong?
While dating Mr. Sometimes I grew bored—
Too many nights of carry-out and wine—
I think about how easily he scored
With just a pizza and my drunken mind.
With Mr. See You Later, I grew mad—
How dare he leave me hanging all the time
Until I grew morose, upset, and sad,
Another casualty not worth a dime.
But now I have a date that I adore:
Self-gratified and happy to my core.

Self-Regard in the Digital Age

I like my inhibitions
It helps to just say no
To all these daft traditions
A woman’s supposed to know

I don’t know how to diet
To starve until I faint
Don’t ask me now to try it
I don’t hear your complaints

About my hearty body
About my shape and size
Go on and judge me haughty
I have no use for lies

I trust my inner voices
My knowledge of myself
I make my own damn choices
About my body’s health

I bristle at suggestions
Of how I’m supposed to live
The myriad connections
The people to forgive

I nurture my defiance
My ways are mine alone
No longer is this body
A site I must disown

My Mother Praises My Pressure Cooker

Look how fancy that thing is!! Big like a boat.
Steam coming out of that little hole!
All buttons and lights and bells—

Black and silver and plugged into the wall.
It looks like one of those computers, don’t it?
The pressure cooker I used to cook for you

Was heavy, heavy, heavy—such fire
On the stove, and so much steam!
It’s a wonder you didn’t burn yourself

Hanging around my knees, trifling little girl
That you were!! Now look at you.
Big woman, professor even, with your

Countertop full of stuff, kitchen with microwave
And air fryer, though you could tidy up
Once in a while! You cook good, girl,

But don’t forget the spices among all those
Machines! You come from people
Who came to this country with spices

In their pockets—not just salt and pepper,
But allspice, nutmeg, saffron and curry!
Show me how you make curry

In this fancy electric pot.
Show me how this metal magic box,
With all its settings and numbers

Cooks up the bones tasty,
Making the meat so tender.
Show me the leftover gravy

Rich and salty over rice, so we both
Smack our lips at the thought of leftovers,
Eating our fill until we ache.

Family Reunion

Your aunts exclaim: “You’ve put on weight!”
Your uncles swig another beer
Your grandma wonders “Where’s your date?”
And clucks about that ex you hate
No wonder why you left this state!
Your cousin smirks: “What are you, queer?”
Your aunts proclaim you’ve put on weight,
While uncles, drunk, swig still more beer.

Letter to the Woman Who Stole a Koala

“Australian police discovered a fuzzy baby koala in a woman’s backpack
while she was being arrested on Sunday.”
—Yahoo News

Did you really think you’d get away with it?
That there, in Australia, you’d be able to just grab
a furry little creature that just happens to symbolize

your entire nation, stuff it your backpack, and drive
away undiscovered? What made you think you could abscond
with that cute little scamp without the cops stopping you?

Surely, they expected to find the usual evil
when they pulled you over: bags of drugs, syringes,
guns and knives, contraband that could start a war, not

a zoo. How did you plan on raising it? Were you going to
feed it eucalyptus leaves from your shaking palms,
dress it up for holidays, teach it to tap dance, make it

DJ your parties? Lady, you stealing a koala is like me,
a fat and lazy American, stealing an eagle—so patriotic,
so stupid. But I would never steal an eagle—they have

talons. They stink. They don’t like revolution.
I can kind of understand wanting a koala—they are
awfully cute—in that funny-cute kind of way—

and the one you stole was only six months old,
so it was extra cute, vulnerable, that nose so darn squishy.
But lady, where did you find it? I admit I don’t know much

about Australia except Hugh Jackman and Finding Nemo
it seems like a great country, though I hear aborigines
get treated like black people get treated here in the U.S.—

though maybe that’s a topic for another poem, another
diatribe? Lady, do koalas just roam the streets in Australia—
shouting Pick me, pick me!—so adorably fuzzy with those

big black eyes? Why didn’t you just get a stuffed one?
That way, you could have all the cuteness, none
of the mess? Were you ashamed, as a 26-year-old

adult female, to buy yourself a stuffed animal?
Could be that, but then again, you weren’t
ashamed to steal an actual living breathing koala.

Did you fight off its mother?
Do you have a mother? And what did your
mother think, relaxing at home in front of the telly,

when she got this call from
the police station: “Your daughter’s
in custody, but the koala is fine”?


I’d rather write than dust,
read books instead of clean,
won’t clean unless I must.

I feel no kind of lust
for rooms kept neat, pristine.
I’d rather write than dust—

not fazed by grit or rust.
I find Lysol obscene,
won’t clean unless I must:

when dishes start to crust
with food, turn rank and green.
I’d rather write than dust;

the pen is all I trust,
no dust rag comes between.
Won’t clean unless I must

and if I do, no fuss—
dirt will not make me mean.
I’d rather write than dust,
won’t clean unless I must.

“Letter to the Woman Who Stole a Koala” and “Housekeeper” first appeared in Joseph’s chapbook The Last Human Heart (Diode Editions, 2020).

Allison Joseph lives in Carbondale, Illinois, where she is Professor of English and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University.  She serves as poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review.  Her books and chapbooks include What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand Press), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon University Press), In Every Seam (University of Pittsburgh Press), Worldly Pleasures (Word Tech Communications), Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon UP), Voice: Poems (Mayapple Press), My Father’s Kites (Steel Toe Books), Trace Particles (Backbone Press), Little Epiphanies (NightBallet Press), Mercurial (Mayapple Press), Mortal Rewards (White Violet Press), Multitudes (Word Poetry), The Purpose of Hands (Glass Lyre Press), Double Identity (Singing Bone Press), Corporal Muse (Sibling Rivalry), What Once You Loved (Barefoot Muse Press). Her collection Confessions of a Barefaced Woman (Red Hen Press, 2018) was the Gold/First Place winner of the 2019 Feathered Quill Award in Poetry and a nominated work for the 2019 NAACP Image Award in Poetry. Her book Lexicon (Red Hen Press, 2021) won the Poetry by the Sea Best Book Award. She was honored as the Illinois Author of the Year in 2022 by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She is the widow of the late poet, writer, and editor Jon Tribble.